Most people know the story of social media, that unlike many online communities, Facebook insisted on real names, later a little relaxed, however during its launch in the universities pre-2007, and then its open launch after 2007, made it effectively kill myspace, classmates.com, and a number of other pre-existing online communities.
It was known as crackbook to some, as it was addictive to connect with old friends for free, and then let you try to gather as many new FB friends as possible.
Shortly thereafter Twitter was born by focusing only on public microblogging, following and hashtags. Despite the power of the social connection that Facebook was monopolizing, this secondary use case of talking about ideas rather than relationships was enabling Twitter to enjoy its own level of success. As the popularity of the Facebook use cases started to stale, and Twitter continued to expand, Facebook moved to acquire several other key social media platforms, as well as develop their own microblogging strategies, one of these was the follow button.
Before the follow button, the closest thing FB had was the like button on its product or company pages, so if you liked, for example, Toyota USA, then anything Toyota USA posted, might come up in your news stream. But then they decided to copy Twitter and released their own follow button – both on these public pages and also on personal profiles. As they do, when they introduce new features, these are usually turned off by default. Before the follow button, if you saw a an interesting public post by a stranger, and wanted to see more from them without friending them, you really only had two options, one would be friend them, or the second would be to bookmark them in your browser. But obviously Facebook saw the success of following in Twitter and other social media platforms, so they finally got with the times. I started noticing follow buttons on people’s profiles, and then Googled “how to add a follow button to my Facebook profile”. But it didn’t seem Facebook cared that much about this feature, because in the social groups I was a member of, Facebook was still encouraging me to friend strangers rather than follow them. Still with more concern about personal privacy, I decided to stick to my guns, and follow a strict protocol around connecting with people on social media. In fact when strangers would try to friend me, I would send back some templated responses like:
- I don’t friend strangers but some of your posts are funny. You should consider allowing public followers: https://www.facebook.com/settings?tab=followers
- Why don’t we just follow each other? https://www.facebook.com/settings?tab=followers
My basic policy around friending people is,
- I have to have already known them, or
- chat with them and decide I want to be their friend.
My policy around following people on Facebook, is pretty much the same as Twitter. Basically the person/organization has posted something I have liked, and I want to see future posts from them. But in addition to Twitter, I might also follow someone who is in the same artist/author fan group as me, lives in the same community as me, or I have mutual friends with them. And certainly if someone shares more than one of the above common traits, then it’s all the more likely that I will think they are follow-worthy.
That brings me to the other day. This guy out of the blue IMed me saying “why the hell are you following my girlfriend?”
I was sort of busy with something, but I knew I was dealing with a serious case of Technology ignorance. The first thing I did was IMed him back and said Who is your girlfriend?
Then I proceeded to find out who she was, and then told him that she and I are members of the same Office fan club Facebook group, Dunder Mifflin – Limitless Paper in a Paperless World.
He claimed that my following her was harassing, and asked me to stop it immediately.
Immediately I wanted to respond with this meme which says now I will follow her even harder. but you have to be an office fan to really appreciate this kind of humor. So instead I decided to just send him an informative link which describes how to turn off public following, and told him that if it is truly a bother, that she should turn it off so that nobody can publicly follow her.
Anyway I was quite busy and, I think I was watching a Christmas movie with my family. As I work East Coast hours, I get tired very early, so I think I went to bed without checking Facebook, and when I woke up, he wrote some more threatening things, including showing me a screenshot of him messaging my wife saying that I am inappropriately following his girlfriend. He even threatened to message all of my friends and contacts that I was doing something inappropriate with his girlfriend. I decided it was too much of a hassle, so I unfollowed her and was
ready to drop it. But then my mom mentioned that if he is that jealous and possessive, he might actually be a threat to that girl. So I decided to just IM her to let her know what happened, and apologize if my following her had caused any inconvenience. Furthermore, I told her that if it was a problem, she should really just turn off that setting to prevent any strangers from following her. She was quite friendly about it, she even said my Office meme was funny, but didn’t deny that he was her boyfriend, so I dropped it.
I think it’s funny how people make up rules about using technology which is often times not what the original designers intended. It sort of reminds me of when I started playing Call-of-Duty with my kids back in 2010, and there was this thing that when you do the sniper rifle you should always quick scope. They would literally accuse you of cheating if you look through the scope of your rifle. I’m pretty sure the game designers let you look through the scope of your rifle to simulate using a real sniper rifle, but it didn’t prevent the kids from making this new arbitrary rule.
On a related note, I recently joined a group in Facebook for talking about Facebook features, but I’m surprised by how few people there are in it. There really must be a better way of ideating than is out there right now. Maybe Facebook will listen if we post it on Twitter. 😉